Unsustainable fishing jeopardises oceans, ecosystems, and livelihoods. Sustainable fishing practices may be the solution to minimise the damage.
The Effects of Overfishing on Our Oceans
Excessive demand for fish is causing overfishing, which is a major threat to the health of our seas.
A consequence of this is ‘ghost fishing’, where discarded fishing gear such as nets and lines contribute to the harm of sea creatures. A 2020 report by WWF revealed that this “ghost gear” is responsible for harming 66% of marine mammal species, half of seabird species, and all species of sea turtles. This leads to a slow, painful, and inhumane death for these creatures.
The report also highlighted that fishing waste accounts for at least 10% of marine litter. 500,000 to 1 million tons of fishing gear enter our oceans annually.
The harm to our oceans extends beyond what we may realize. The process of burning fossil fuels leads to the release of excessive carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As a result, more heat gets trapped around the earth, which causes the temperature of our oceans to rise.
Thousands of fish are washing up dead in the Gulf of Mexico as water temperatures get too hot to hold enough oxygen. Waters off Florida are hitting record temperatures, resulting in fish kills, algae blooms, and coral damage. pic.twitter.com/bEb0EZAfYW
— Thomas Kennedy (@tomaskenn) July 22, 2023
This rise in temperature makes it difficult for fish to survive in their natural habitats. Furthermore, oceans cannot effectively ventilate large amounts of CO2, leading to an increase in the PH levels of the water.
Over time, coral reefs degrade due to this phenomenon. Additionally, the PH levels negatively impact marine species that use their sense of smell to breed, such as the widely consumed salmon.
The relentless pursuit of certain species has driven some to extinction, including the Atlantic salmon, Chilean seabass, and haddock. These species are now among the top 20 at risk of extinction.
All of these factors are leading scientists to predict that there could be more plastic than fish in the sea by 2050.
The Impact on Low-Income Countries
Within this conversation, we also need to consider the effects of unsustainable fishing practices on countries that depend on fishing. As highlighted in a report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the decline in fish stocks jeopardizes the primary source of protein and income for millions of people in these nations.
Coastal communities that rely on small-scale fishing struggle as the fish population decreases. This affects their livelihoods and the balance between nature and the economy. The consequences of this ecological imbalance are especially devastating in places like Senegal.
Overfishing in West Africa costs 6 countries (Gambia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mauritania, Senegal, Sierra Leone) US$2.3billion yearly, finds new Amnesty International report. Main villain: "foreign-owned industrial trawlers." Caught fish not eaten but sold for fertilizer, fish oil pic.twitter.com/zHE8t5QpQu
— James Hall (@hallaboutafrica) June 6, 2023
Senegal has been identified by the West Africa Regional Fisheries Program of the World Bank as having some of the most bountiful fishing grounds in the world. In recent decades, the informal fishing sector in Senegal, which provides employment to over 600,000 individuals, has undergone the most severe crisis in its history.
The impact of this problem extends beyond just the fishermen who depend on fishing as their source of income. The lack of access to fish also affects food security, economic stability, and the overall structure of a society that relies on the ocean’s resources.
The Rise of Sustainable Fishing Practices
Several countries have implemented regulations and policies to promote sustainable practices to address sustainability challenges.
As a result of New England’s declining cod supply, Norway’s fisheries have become a valuable source of sustainable fish for U.S. markets. Despite this increase in demand, Norway enforces strict regulations that mandate the capture of wild, fully grown Norwegian seasonal cod only between January and April.
This approach has been very successful. Norway’s commitment to sustainable fishing has made it the world’s second-largest exporter of seafood, surpassed only by China. By prioritising long-term sustainability over short-term gains, the country has been able to protect its marine resources while ensuring its fishers’ livelihoods.
“The amount of wild fish is limited, and the resources are by no means sufficient to meet the demand for food. Norway aims to produce more food from aquaculture.” – Ingrid Dåsnes, Norway’s Ministry for Trade, Industries and Fisheries
Iceland is another shining example of sustainable fishing practices, thanks to its fishermen’s quota system that has existed since 1901.
This system guarantees that each vessel is assigned a specific share of the total allowable catch of the targeted species. If the fish populations decrease, fishing areas are temporarily closed. This method has proven effective, as Iceland has restored its depleted stocks. In recognition of its responsible practices, Iceland was awarded its own marine stewardship label in 2014.
Dr Sigrun Davidsdottir, an environmental scientist, underscores the significance: “Iceland’s success showcases how responsible policies and collaboration can result in a win-win situation, fostering resilient marine ecosystems while supporting the livelihoods of fishers.”
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The Global Blue Deal
The urgent need for innovative and sustainable fishing solutions has led to the emergence of the ‘Global Blue Deal‘. UNCTAD has developed this concept based on recommendations from UN Oceans Forums and Conferences.
The deal focuses on investing in emerging sustainable sectors that could benefit developing countries, with particular attention on the seaweed farming industry, which has seen its market value triple over the last two decades.
“The ocean economy offers many opportunities. We must strike the right balance between benefitting from the ocean and protecting its resources.”, UNCTAD Deputy Secretary-General, Pedro Manuel Moreno
In addition, the Blue Deal urges action on harmful subsidies that lead to overfishing. This includes urgently ratifying the World Trade Organisation’s Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies. The goal is to end the support of illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing.
Jumping off the ‘Blue Deal’ recommendation for the current lack of tools to responsibly meet global demands, precision fishing offers a promising path.
Precision fishing involves using specialised tools to monitor fish stocks in near real-time, catch the right fish, and intervene appropriately to protect fish stocks and marine ecosystems. This has been championed by SafetyNet Technologies.
“Our goal is to help create a world where the ocean and humans can thrive together.” Quote from SafetyNet Technologies website.
This is a two-fold advantage system. It allows fishers to fulfill the demand for fish while preserving the ocean’s resources.
Fishing, Humans, and the Oceans Coming Together
While it would be optimal for everyone to adopt a vegan lifestyle and prioritise the well-being of fish over our desire for them, it is not a practical reality. Only a small fraction of the population, approximately 230 million, follows a vegan diet.
Furthermore, limited access to alternative protein sources means many rely on fish as a dietary staple.
Given the current situation, embracing and mainstreaming sustainable fishing practices is the solution. These practices have been around for centuries. However, modern consumers have become accustomed to a consistent fish supply year-round.
By supporting companies and supermarkets prioritising sustainable fish sourcing, we can safeguard the oceans and the communities that depend on them. This will hopefully create a foundation for a future where sustainable fishing practices thrive.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com. — In the Featured Photo: CatchCam recording fish escape trawler net through square mesh panel. Featured Photo Credit: SafetyNet